OK, so this review is going to be a bit different. As you all may know, I am going to review a video game. However, I will not review the actual game aspects of the game. To be honest, the game itself is actually very good; the thing I have a problem with is the way the story was written, and because the Professor Layton-games are heavily reliant on the stories, I feel it is important to address these issues. So, I will review it as if it was a movie.
Anyway, what could be said about the Professor Layton-games? It is one of the best recent game series, and it is easy to see why; it blends intricate storytelling with brilliant puzzle solving; a feat that only a few games could hope to achieve. Personally, I was a BIT late to the party, seeing as I got into the series when the second game came about. After playing the first game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, I was smittened; the characters were fun, the animation was a nice addition to the story progression, the art style felt like a mixture between regular anime and a Sylvain Chomet movie (which got removed from all future installments, oddly enough), the voice acting was incredible (however, I was taken by surprise when I heard Layton for the first time. Nothing wrong with it, but I did not expect him to sound like Alec Guinness; it's like the fictional equivalent to Benedict Cumberbatch), and the overall game feel was astoundingly fresh and exciting.
After this, I just had to buy the rest of the games, and it would become an annual tradition for me; every autumn I would wait in line to buy the next game. Because of this, I became acquainted with the awesome Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, as well as the solidly conclusive Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. This trilogy will always be remembered as one of the few in which all games are of equal worth in terms of quality.
After the third game, I heard that the next three games would act as prequels to the first game. 'How exciting' I thought. I was I going to see what transpired before all this happened, and I was going to get more puzzles to solve. My expectations were met when I played the first in this trilogy: Professor Layton and the Spectre's Flute. It is one of my personal favorites; the story was fun, the new characters were fun and interesting, the setting and music were both very harmonic and peaceful, and it also delved a little deeper into Layton's mythology; it was all I could hope for in a Layton game.
However, when I got my hands on Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles, I slowly realized that the series was losing it's edge. It was not a bad game, and the story felt like an appropriate continuation to Spectre's Flute, but this was also the point where it felt like the series tried to be bigger and more epic than ever before. The inclusion of an ancient, yet technologically advanced, civilization felt like a weird diversion from the otherwise realistic nature of the series. Also, the game started exploring Layton's backstory a bit further, and while it was a fun idea in the previous two games, it just did not interest me as much here. However, it was not a complete dealbreaker, as it all fell into place in a manner that I would deem appropriate to the nature of the game.
Then came the final game in the prequel-saga, and by extension the entire series: Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy... and while I am usually not one to point and go "jumped the shark", I feel the term is more than appropriate in this case. Again, it was not a bad GAME, but the story was just... terrible. The biggest flaw for me is that the game did not stick to one story, and instead shoved in as many half-baked scenarios as possible to act as the story progression. I am not saying anything, but I kind of suspect that this was because they either did not have any clue on what the story would be, or they had too many ideas and decided to go with every single one. Sadly, all this does is distract me from what could be weakly described as the main plot.
Also, the story felt less like a Layton-game, and more like lazy Miyazaki fanfiction. Not only does flight act as an important plot point, but it also seems to borrow heavily from Castle in the Sky. I will not say what happens in the game, but if you have seen that movie, you know EXACTLY what to expect. Also, the writers probably either watched The Usual Suspect, or they played Kingdom Hearts for the first time, because the ending just bombards you with a ton of twists and conflicting information. It just becomes a great clusterfuck, and it leaves no space for you to process any of it. When I reached that point, all I could say was "fuck you" to the people whom thought ending the prequel-arch on such a note was a good idea. It just comes out of nowhere, and I'm expected to buy it and just move on.
Finally, the big coup de grace: it jettisons every shread of plausibility, and just concludes that magic and the supernatural exists. Again, the series, as odd as the stories could become, were still rooted in reality to some extent. This game just says: "Bollocks to that", and just ends with one of the characters going Deus Ex Machina, and everything is suddenly restored. Seriously; that's how it ends! The tone just goes from somewhat plausible to not plausible in a million years, and then when they try to tie it together with Curious Village, the clash between the tones is so huge, that it just does not work. I mean, how would you react if you then played Curious Village, and the style was suddenly a lot more toned down than the previous game? It's like watching Star Wars: Episode IV right after watching Star Wars: Episode III.
So, what the fuck? Is this really it? You wrote yourself into oblivion, guys. Again, this is not a bad game, but good god was the story shit, and in a game where the story is one of the fundamentals, that is a BIG problem!
All in all, the game gets a 3/5, but the story gets like 1.5/5.